The History of Autism (A Summary)

Autism was official discovered 60 years ago. Although still puzzling to many, professionals are learning more about autism everyday.

Some facts:

  • Early accounts of individuals with autism are unclear
  • The concept and definition of autism has greatly changed over the years
  • Socio-political views as well as treatment available has evolved and continues to grow
  • Symptoms may have been confused with schizophrenia in the past


  • 1960s-Michael Rutter’s comparative study comparing the features of autism
  • 1960s-1970s: Kolvin distinguished autism from schizophrenia
  • 1970-Hermelin and O’Connor explored the “savant”
  • 1971- first association of autism as a specific medical condition (Stella Chess was the first to discover that autism can be associated with a neurological disease)
  • 1975- US Developmental Disability Act included individuals with autism
  • 1981- Lorna Wing’s seminal paper discusses Asperger’s Syndrome
  • 2000-Gillberg added to the knowledge of epidemiology, genetics, and clinical management

Early Accounts/History Records:

  • Book: Autism in History by Rob Houston (discusses the legal case of Uta Frith’s analysis of Hugh Blair in 1747)
  • The story of Victor “the wild boy of Aveyron”  in 1798 with Jean Itard
  • Paper: Observations on Madness and Melancholy chapter entitled “Cases on insane children” by John Haslam (discusses a boy with characteristics of autism published in 1809)
  • Book: The Pathology of the Mind chapter entitled “The insanity of early life” by Henry Maudsley (discusses a 13 year boy who shares similar characteristics of an individuals with Aspergers in 1879)
  • Ssucharewa’s account of six children in Germany during 1926
  • Hans Aspergers’s account of four children in 1949
  • Lorna Wing’s seminal paper in 1981

Outdated Ideas/Theories

  • Autism is caused by bad parenting
  • Autism is among the group of schizophrenia (we now know that autism is a developmental disorder rather than a psychosis)
  • Autism is secondary to language disorders

Interesting Facts:

  • Over 50% of children with autism are taking drugs/vitamins in the US (not the case in the UK)


  • The Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders (started in 1971 by Kanner and Chess)
  • Focus on Autism and other Developmental Disabilities (started in 1985)
  • The International Autism Research Review (started in 1987)
  • International Journal of Research and Practice (started in 1997)
  • Good Autism Practice (started in 2001)

Current Books to Read:

  • “Pretending to be Normal” by Liane Willey
  • “Growing up Severely Autistic” by Kate Rankins
  • “An Inside View Of Autism” by Temple Grandin
  • “Freaks, Geeks, and Aspergers Syndrome” by Luke Jackson


Wolff, S. (2004). The history of autism. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 13(4), 201-8. doi:

Light it Up Blue

Today is Light it Up Blue Autism Awareness Day. In honor of April 2, we ask everyone to wear blue to show their support of individuals with autism. 

**Official Light It Up Blue Logo 

Teachertalk4all has a whole page dedicated to Autism studies. Be sure to check out the many postings here:

Celebrating the One Year Anniversary of Beyond Disabilities Week

Beyond Disabilities week started as an idea. And an email. And one year ago it became a reality. 

Leah Serao disability curriculum and resources college awareness

Today we are celebrating the one year anniversary of Beyond Disabilities week at Gordon College. It was a great week that challenged students, faculty, and outside community members to think about disabilities in a new light.

In remembrance, a Beyond Disabilities page on this blog was created to remember and relive the many discussions on campus. We hope for the conversation to continue through this electronic medium.

 Discussions have swirled at Gordon in recent years about perception, art, disability politics, and their impact on the disability community—and from February 17 through 21, those vital, intriguing issues were the focus of a symposium-style week of events at Gordon called Beyond Disabilities. It culminated with a talk by Temple Grandin, Ph.D., an acclaimed speaker, writer and activist on the topic of autism.

-Gordon College: Beyond Disabilities Week: A Week to Explore

An overview/review of the week:

1. A Shared Vision of Access for All (Huffington Post, D. Michael Lindsay, May 2014)

2. Beyond Disabilities Week: A Week to Explore (Gordon College, March 2014)

3. Students Launch Beyond Disabilities Week (The Tartan, February 2014)

4. Beyond Disabilities Week (Stillpoint Magazine, Spring 2014)

5. Beyond Disabilities Week Schedule (Gordon College, January 2014)

6. Beyond Disabilities: Strength in Weakness (Brett Olson, August 2014)

7. Beauty in Weakness: Examining the Mess Under the Carpet (Brett Olson, January 2014)

Team Sites:

Twitter: @gcdisabilities  ( )



Please visit the Beyond Disabilities page found on the top of this blog to view each event that took place over the week.




Different Kinds of Minds Contribute to Society

Gordon College hosted Temple Grandin, subject of a 2010 Emmy-winning HBO movie to speak during Beyond Disabilities week on February 21. I personally booked her, introduced her, and was able to spend the whole day with her. Needless to say, she was amazing. To get a glimpse of her advice, knowledge and wise council, please view her keynote address: Temple Grandin’s Keynote Speech at Gordon College with Leah Serao.

Will you join us? Beyond Disabilities

For the past year, I have been organizing a week at my school focusing on the topic of disabilities. With the events quickly approaching, I invite all to share in the many talks and forums we will have at Gordon College on the week of February 17.

Please reference for a copy of week’s schedule.

Beyond Disabilities Week, Gordon College, Leah Serao, Temple Grandin Keynote

The World Needs All Types Of Minds

In a recent blog post, I discussed how times are changing for people with autism. While people with disabilities have traditionally struggled finding employment, certain companies such as SAP and Freddie Mac are actually seeking people who are on the spectrum. Temple Grandin, the most famous person with autism, gives a great Tedtalk on how the world needs all kinds of minds.